Joel Kelsey – Bass
Alex Beltran – Tenor Saxophone
Dan Bruce – Guitar
Tom Vaitsas – Piano, Organ
Jon Deitemyer – Drums
Delays is the exciting first album by the Merge Quintet, a group co-led by Joel Kelsey and Alex Beltran. The album showcases original compositions by both leaders, performed deftly by a slick team of top-notch Chicago musicians. In particular, the Merge Quintet weaves through nine modernistic gems, with a focus on flexible group interplay. Beltran and Kelsey’s compositions represent a great triumph for a freshman outing. They present an entire set of originals that are crafty and malleable, yet entirely accessible. The co-leader’s tunes benefit greatly from the unique sound that Bruce and Vaitsas create on guitar and piano, a combination that can become musically unwieldy in lesser hands. Specifically, the two harmonic instruments do some delicate interweaving, providing a colorful array of vamps and counterpoint, a boon to each tune’s interpretation.
One of the quintet’s co-leaders, saxophonist Alex Beltran, has carved out a reputation as a saxophonist of impeccable musicianship. He certainly thrives on this recording, threading a needle of delicate virtuosity, maintaining a clever balance achieved by only a few other saxophone greats, such as Jimmy Greene and Steve Wilson. Joel Kelsey, the band’s other co-leader, impresses just as equally, showcasing impeccable accompaniment and dynamic solo chops as well. His accompaniment is particularly effective on the tunes featuring several groove shifts such as “Brite Moments,” where Kelsey serves as a terrific pivot point for the rest of the band. Dan Bruce and Tom Vaitsas both display a deft modernist touch, as does Deitemyer with his fluid execution of percussive colors.
Album highlights include Beltran’s “Her,” which begins with an ethereal opening before settling into a graceful waltz. It is highlighted by a colorful rhodes solo by Vaitsas and a soulful tenor solo by Beltran. The group’s sensitive interplay is most apparent on Beltran’s “Delays,” where odd meter dips and turns are particularly aided by Deitemyer’s sensitive accompaniment. Bruce’s hip pedal work shines on “Paper Mullet,” as does Kelsey’s bass solo that rounds out the evocative track. Beltran’s attractive tone comes to the fore on “Sytosis,” giving a plaintive quality to the tune’s buoyant melody. Kelsey rounds out the track with a dynamic and lyrical solo. Both challenging and accessible, this is one of the best new releases of the year.
By: Daniel Healy